How I hire for support at my company

I recently hired for a customer success position. The process was pretty intense with 340 applicants in one week and just 1 spot available.

Receiving 340 applicants means saying “no” 339 times. Spending “just” 5min per applicants means 3.5 solid working days with no breaks or interruptions (more like a week really).

This may be “fine” in big companies with resources dedicated to this single task, but as a small company, you have to find other ways.

Employees time vs Employer time

Candidates usually have a hard time to grasp this.

Sure enough, applicants spent time (sometimes a lot!) filling the applications to the best of their abilities and expect you spend a lot of time looking at their application but effort should not be the determining factor here.

When I go to a restaurant and receive less than average food, it doesn't matter the efforts the cook has been through to produce the meal. I judge based on results, not efforts.
If the starter tastes bad, you don’t have to eat the entire menu to know the chef is not good enough.

On top of that, candidates (usually) are already employed, so they get their monthly check by their current employer at the end of the month regardless. I don’t. No income ever comes from rejecting job applicants.

On top of this, the vast majority asked for feedback to help them (not the company) get better for the next application.

Spending “just” another 5 min per candidate to give individual feedback leads to another 3.5 day of work, not to mention that in 100% of the cases, this leads to people arguing against the feedback (or explaining why they are the perfect fit) instead of accepting it.

Problem is that I highly doubt that my feedback this will help because other companies are unlikely to approach support the way we do. I judged application in accordance to our core values.

Answering support by saying “Hi John” may be totally unacceptable in other companies.

Just be the way you are and trust company will resonate with it, if it does you’ll be so much happier not to play a role. I feel bad for all the applicants who though they had to wear a mask instead of being themselves when applying at QuickMail.

All the good intentions, efforts and credentials won’t matter at all if the person doesn't share the core values.

75% of all applicants were easy to reject by simply using our core values as a guide.

Everyone hates phoning support when it means listening to “Your call is important to us” every 10 seconds. It screams FAKE FAKE FAKE. And yet that’s exactly how most people approach support.

I made our values public on the job application so people will know what type of company we are and what we stand for:

These are the candidates you want to attract more:

“ After reading the values of, I feel like I have finally found the perfect match for me”

NOT this:

“My brother has worked remotely for years as software engineer and loves it, I am interested in loving my job as much as he does!”

I want to work with people who share how I approach the world not just benefit from what we set-up.

If you want to hire basketball players, you don’t interview them, you see them play!

As part of the application, I gave real customer support questions to answer.

This is where the magic happened. You can’t BS your way in that way. Everything else was secondary. If a candidate can’t give great answers to users, it doesn't matter that the candidate has an impressive resume, great credential or extensive past experience.

Not sharing our core values were easy to spot there. For example, when our core values page mentions that we treat people like friends, we mean it. I don’t call friends by their last name.

When I clearly stated in the application that: “ We care about helping our customers deeply, if this means recommending another tool more suited to their needs, so be it.” and then a support question asked how we compare to a competitor, don’t try to push for sales without knowing the needs of the user first.

Some answers were so terrible, it frightened me to imagine having those candidates interact with real users. Those were easy to reject. They were also the ones insulting me on Twitter that I didn't spend enough time to give them personal feedback on their application. So much for emotional intelligence…

Some were not clear cut and it was hard to make the call, but that’s what I do daily as a founder. It ain't always easy, but in the end, result is binary. Hired or not hired, so make the call.

Out of decency, I made the call fast and let candidates know so they can keep moving with their job search without having false hope or waiting for me.

In the end, it was a simple maths problem. Too many negative points and the candidate was out, not a good fit. Sure those “rules” could be taught, but why not find someone who is naturally inclined to view the world the same way? I don’t want FAKE or forced, I want genuine and natural. So when I'm not around to say what we should say, this comes out naturally.

A simple formula for the job

This is how I judged the replies. I have no doubts the formula will be different if you apply for a soulless job, a more “professional” company maybe.

Too many negative points and the applicant was out.

This costed points

  • Hiding behind we or us. E.g. “We are very sorry”, instead of “I’m very sorry”
  • Extensive use of formality: E.g. “Dear Mr. Smith”
  • Dehumanizing the company, not using names. E.g. “I’ll let the development team knows”.
  • Compare QuickMail to competition instead of focusing on user needs (extra minus point when comparing based on price).
  • Badmouthing competition. It’s just a no-go, I have respect for everyone able to build a business, my competitors included.
  • Delegate or passing the buck. E.g. “I’ll ask our sales team to come back to you” or “wait for our development team to come back to me”.
  • Too verbose. This creates confusion.
  • Not doing any research (just reading the help could easily answer a few questions). If you want to commit 1 year of your life to a new job, at least check out the product!
  • If you could not honestly find the answer, a simple “I’ll find out for you within the next 20 min” would be better than BS your way through. Honesty first.
  • Making promise you can’t keep. E.g. “I’ll make sure your testimonial make it to the website”
  • Not respecting user’s will. E.g. “Are you sure you want to cancel? Let me give you a call first”

This gave extra points:

  • Build relationship/relate prior to answering. E.g. “Being a student myself, I completely understand where you’re coming from.” or simply showing empathy first.
  • See actual needs behind the question. Someone may ask how to do X just because they are trying to achieve Y. If there is a better way to achieve Y, answering X is the wrong answer.
  • Speak from a position of strength. E.g. “I can’t make any promises, but I will surely try my best.”
  • Use support question as opportunity to learn more. E.g. “How about we hop on a quick call?” (not as a mean to resolve an issue though, answer should be provided first)
  • If you are applying at my company, sign with “The curious cucumber” as title to gain extra point, so I know you read my article fully.

In general, anything adding walls between user and the support person reflected very negatively on the application. We aim to remove walls, not add them. We were looking for people who could be in the forefront, being human and creating a connection with users as if they were already a good friend.

A sure way to be rejected would have been to write something like this:

“Dear Mr. Smith,
We are sorry to see you go. We certainly value you as a customer. Before we can cancel your account, can you please let us know why?”

Note: Telling a customer that they are a “valued customer” doesn't make it so. Show them, don’t tell them.